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CMC needs to show its cards

Kathy Heicher

Two years ago, residents of the west end of this valley raised a clamor when word surfaced that college leaders, intent on building a new facility at Edwards, were seriously considering closing down the Eagle campus.

The news that the continuing education facility, a proud part of this valley for 30 years, was relocating about 20 miles upvalley rattled the many students who use the facility.

Petitions were organized. A community meeting was held. Citizens who as adults had reached their educational goals by sandwiching years of night classes between their regular jobs and home life spoke about the importance of having classes in the immediate community.

More than a few said they would not have pursued their college goals if it involved a 20 mile commute on often snowy, icy roads. Town leaders spoke of the importance of the college’s presence in a growing community.

Nobody argued that there shouldn’t be a college campus at Edwards. The community, in general, is proud of that opportunity. Rather, they urged the CMC administration to keep the college’s presence in the lower valley, as well.

The college administration promised to study the issue and to return to the downvalley communities with the essential data (student numbers, a survey of community needs) before making a decision.

Apparently, some sort of survey was conducted. However, somewhere along the line, the communication broke down. Possibly, the problem is that there has been a change of the key administrators involved (the college president, the campus director in the Eagle Valley, some changes in directors on the CMC governing board) since that promise was made two years ago.

Also, the unfortunate reality is that elected boards such as the CMC directors often fall short when it comes to communicating with constituents. Citizens don’t all that often turn out for the monthly meetings, which are rotated throughout the vast, multi-county CMC district. There’s just not enough talking going on.

Subsequentlyan item recently appeared on the CMC governing board’s agenda that involved giving permission to staff to explore the option of selling or leasing the Eagle facility. In fact, CMC administrators and the local school district had already been doing some preliminary talking about future uses of the building.

No advance notice of the local hot topic was sent out to the affected communities. Most downvalley students who use CMC had no idea the discussion was taking place.

Had not a couple of alert citizens noted the item and gone to the meeting to voice their concerns, the governing board would likely have authorized the administrators to start looking at divesting the college of the building.

Credit CMC director Jacque Whitsitt, an Eagle County resident who lives in the Roaring Fork Valley, with representing the people in this end of the valley. Noting that several CMC campuses are scattered at distances about 10 miles apart in the valley, she questioned why the college administrating seemed determined to consolidate services in the Eagle Valley.

CMC director Helen Weiss of Lake County backed up Whitsitt, noting that the communities in the west end of the Eagle Valley are growing quickly and demand for easily accessible community education is also increasing.

The board delayed voting on the issue for two months, asking administrators to return with data reflecting student need and community desire.

CMC officials are promising they would still offer downvalley classes, likely farmed out to available space in local schools. The issue is whether the college would still have an administrative presence in Eagle. One possibility was that perhaps, for a specified period of time at the start of each semester, CMC administrators would set up a place for students to register, at specified times and at a specified location, downvalley. Returning students could register either on-line or over the phone. It would be a sort of virtual administration set-up.

Maybe it would work. Maybe not. Ask any entity that has ever tried to regularly schedule activities or classes in the local public school system. Everything all depends on how cooperative the principals and staffs of those schools are. Some welcome night use of their buildings with open arms. Others are notoriously territorial, and don’t want strangers in their classrooms when they’re not there.

Regardless, before any decision is made, the CMC administrators owe it to their taxpaying students and constituents in the west end of the Eagle Valley to come back with the numbers and an explanation. Only after the impacted communities have an opportunity to digest, and respond, to the information should a decision be made.

Perhaps the town boards of Eagle and Gypsum should invite CMC officials in for a friendly, well-publicized in advance chat.

Let the communication begin.

Kathy Heicher is the editor of the Eagle Valley Enterprise.


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